July 26, 2017

Gain Financial Freedom in your Pursuit of Happiness!

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Every year I re-read the Declaration of Independence and meditate on the amazing freedoms I enjoy (and sometimes admittedly, take for granted). This year I have been studying the history of Bankruptcy in America and came across this wonderful book called Republic of Debtors: Bankruptcy in the Age of American Independence by Bruce H. Mann.

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After reading a bit of this book, I realized how incredibility blessed we are to have the laws that allow us to file Bankruptcy with ease of process, and without judgment or fear. It wasn’t always that way and not everyone who suffered from crushing debt was given that second chance. It took years and a lot of legislation to get the laws where they are today; the laws that protect debtors from their creditors.

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I believe the secret to happiness is the freedom of choice. When you choose to take the first step to get out of debt you begin on the road to financial freedom. Bankruptcy will help you keep your home, relieve you of unsecured debt, keep your utilities on and give you the freedom to start over. It was the best thing that ever happened to me (read my personal Bankruptcy story here) and was my own declaration of independence.

25% Off Estate Planning / Reminders & Announcements

For the month of January 2017, all Estate Planning Packages are 25% off.  They include a Will, Living Will and Power of Attorney.  Also, we are announcing that we are moving from 74 Cherry Street to 50 Cherry Street, Milford, CT as of February 1, 2017, and we will be starting a new Blog/Vlog Series in February 2017 regarding the entire Chapter 7 Bankruptcy process!!

Back To School Shopping On A Budget

Back to school shopping is no doubt a pain for all parents. If you’re watching your finances, school supply shopping can be even more difficult. However, back to school shopping on a budget can be a breeze if you do it right. Below are some tips every parent should incorporate into their August-September back to school shopping for their children.

  • Set a budget. Go into the back to school shopping season with a specific budget. Let your children know what the overall budget is and that there will be no going over it.
  • Make a list! Get a list of supplies that your children need from each of their teachers. Before you go out and purchase everything, go through your home and look for things you may be able to cross off the list. Look at what school supplies your children have left from the previous year and what things you may be able to reuse. Also separate the list into needs and wants. Get all of the essentials for your child and in order to keep under budget, consider skipping some of the “wants” on the list.
  • Don’t go right to Staples for your child’s school supplies. Get things like pencils and pens from your local Dollar Store.
  • Buy your child a bookbag that will last! Brands like L.L Bean and Jansport have a lifetime guarantee on all their bags so buy one that your child can use year after year so you will definitely get your money’s worth.
  • Reuse! Buy your children plastic folders instead of cardboard and such. The plastic will be reusable for years after the purchase as long as your children take care of them.
  • Look through your children’s closet and see exactly what they need so you may plan ahead. Avoid shopping in August for clothes. If you can, wait until mid September or around that time in order to hit the sales that go on after stores think that everyone in town has already completed their back to school shopping. Alternatively, your family can go clothing shopping for fall clothes at the beginning of the summer in order to take advantage of some deals.
  • Try shopping at local thrift stores or outlet malls. Some thrift stores sell name brands for cheap and outlets always have good deals on clothes and shoes.

 

Back to school shopping no longer needs to be a dreadful, money-sucking event that happens at the end of every summer. If you use these helpful tips, you will succeed in getting all the supplies your children need, but also stay well under your budget.

5 Ways To Save Money At A Carnival

Carnivals are a place that families go in order to have a fun night out together. With no admission fees to most carnivals or fairs, some people have the impression that they are inexpensive. Although, unfortunately, that is not always the case with these game-filled and ride oriented affairs. The cost of food, games, and rides most certainly adds up and your so-called “inexpensive” family night out has run your credit card the same amount of money as a five star dinner for two. Below are five ways to save money on a trip to the carnival.

  1. Allot one treat per child. Instead of spending over $100 on food at the carnival, talk to all of your children in advance and let them know that they are entitled to one treat and one treat only while at the fair. Treats such as funnel cakes, candy, popcorn, corn dogs, and things of that nature are so expensive at carnivals so be sure to bring snacks and drinks with you. Take things from your own home such as water, juice boxes, granola bars, and chips to snack on so your children’s one allotted snack each fills them up.
  2. Take a look at the fair or carnival’s website before you go to check for any deals that may be available. Sometimes there are coupons and discounts for rides only available online that are not advertised. You will never know that discounts and such were available unless you look for them!
  3. Think hard about souvenirs. Do you really need that $15 souvenir cup with free refills? No one needs that much soda in one day.
  4. Scope out the parking situation before the day of the carnival. On-site parking can be costly, but definitely more convenient. Alternatively, if you are looking to save money, maybe find an off-site parking lot that will most likely be much cheaper. Sure, you and your family may have to walk a little bit, but the money you will save will be well worth it.
  5. Limit the rides. Rides can be very expensive at fairs and may run anywhere from $4 to $9 each. Tell your children before even getting to the fair to choose their rides wisely because each child will only be able to pick two or three to go on.

Carnivals can be a fun filled family day, but if you do not plan your trip wisely, they can be quite costly. Check online for coupons and discounts that you may be able to use. Have a talk with your children and let them know that this day trip will not be a free for all. The children will be allotted a certain amount of rides and food choices each. Also think wisely about what souvenirs you buy. If there is a possibility you can get a souvenir somewhere else, it would be best not to buy it at a carnival for a more expensive price. Use these money saving tips above in order to have a fun money-saving family day!

Estate Planning & Identity Theft Seminar | Thursday, April 28, 2016 | Stamford, CT

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How To Get A Credit Card If You Have Bad Credit

It’s a bit of a catch-22, isn’t it? In order to build your credit, you need to have and use a credit card. But in order to qualify for many credit cards, you need to have good credit. What are you supposed to do when you know that your credit is bad, and you fear that you won’t be able to get a credit card and bring up your credit score? Luckily, all is not lost! You can still qualify for many credit cards even if you have a low credit score. Just follow these tips on getting a credit card with bad credit.

  1. Find out your credit score. You might have a rough idea of what your credit score is, but you won’t be able to truly determine what credit cards you should and should not apply for until you know your credit score. You can get a free credit score report online. Once you know your score, you can plan accordingly.
  2. Know what you qualify for. If your credit score is 600 or above, you will probably be able to qualify for an unsecured credit card. If your credit score is below 600, you will most likely only qualify for a secured credit card. A secured credit card will require that you have the equivalent of your card’s limit available to the card issuer. An unsecured credit card doesn’t carry this requirement.
  3. Shop around. Just because you have a low credit score does not mean that you should be paying outrageous interest and fees. Do some research to determine what the most practical, reasonable credit card is for you. Make sure that you also find a credit card that comes from a reputable bank. Avoid credit cards that have high interest rates, don’t offer a grace period for interest, and that have expensive monthly fees.
  4. When you find the card you want, apply for that card only. You should apply for credit cards one at a time. If you have poor credit, you don’t want to be juggling multiple credit cards. If you are approved for your first choice, stick with this card. If you are denied, apply for your second choice.
  5. When you get a credit card, make your payments responsibly. If you are approved for a credit card, don’t make the company regret accepting your application! Make sure that you make all of your payments on time and that you do not overextend your line of credit. With online payments and credit card apps for phones, staying on top of your credit card has never been easier!

These are my top tips for getting a credit card, even if your credit is less than perfect. For additional advice to help you improve your credit, you can contact me here. I am happy to discuss your situation during a free consultation!

5 Easter Ideas On A Budget

Holidays can be a lot of fun, but they can also get expensive! As Easter approaches, you are probably interested in making some festive food and partaking in fun activities with your children, but you might not be sure if you can afford it. Luckily, Easter is a holiday with many opportunities to save money. For some cheap Easter ideas that your family is sure to love, read on!

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  1. Dyeing hardboiled eggs. This is a classic Easter activity, and it is a resourceful one at that! At 1-5 dollars per dozen – depending on the type of eggs you buy – eggs are a cheap and filling meal. High in protein and good cholesterol, eggs make for a healthy breakfast, so you can feel confident serving them to your family. On top of the money-saving and health benefits, coloring Easter eggs is a classic activity to do with your kids. For a few extra dollars, you can pick up an Egg Decoration and Dye kit. You and your kids can have fun decorating Easter eggs, which will double as a delicious breakfast. Total cost: $3-7.
  2. Easter egg hunt. Another classic Easter activity, you can save a lot of money by reusing plastic eggs and putting small presents in each. Plastic egg packets only cost a few dollars per dozen, and you can fill them with loose change, candy, stickers, special coupons, stick-on tattoos, glow sticks, fruit snacks, etc. Once you invest in the eggs, you will be able to reuse them for years to come. In all, you can create an incredible hunt for your kids for around $10.
  3. Deviled eggs. Another great use for your decorated Easter eggs is to turn them into deviled eggs. This is a simple and easy recipe. All that you need are hardboiled eggs, mayonnaise, mustard, sweet relish, and paprika. You can make a dozen deviled eggs for around $3. Bring them to a party or share them with the family – deviled eggs are always a crowd pleaser!
  4. Easter bunny project. You and your kids can use old paper towel tubes, paint, markers, stickers, and more, to create a cute Easter bunny family. Use whatever you have in your house to create a fun, free activity that you can do with your family. Total cost: free!
  5. Host a potluck arts and crafts party. Invite the kids in the neighborhood or your child’s classmates over for an arts and crafts party. Have each child bring their own activity to contribute to the party – this will provide tons of different ideas for the kids to do at little cost to you. Total cost: $10 to provide some snacks and basic craft resources for the kids.

These are just five ideas for Easter food and fun, but the possibilities are endless. Start with these activities, which will be easy on your wallet, and expand from there.

Happy Easter!

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Series Part Six: The Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee

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In your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy process there will be 3 main characters: you, your attorney and the Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee assigned to your case.  In short, a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee is the person who oversees your Bankruptcy Case.

There are currently ten Chapter 7 Trustees in the State of Connecticut who are appointed by the United States Trustee.  The Trustee Program is a part of the Department of Justice.

“The United States Trustee Program is a component of the Department of Justice that seeks to promote the efficiency and prote ct the integrity of the Federal bankruptcy system. To further the public interest in the just, speedy and economical resolution of cases filed under the Bankruptcy Code, the Program monitors the conduct of bankruptcy parties and private estate trustees, oversees related administrative functions, and acts to ensure compliance with applicable laws and procedures. It also identifies and helps investigate bankruptcy fraud and abuse in coordination with United States Attorneys, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other law enforcement agencies.” –The U.S. Department of Justice

Upon filing of your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition you will be assigned a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee randomly by the Bankruptcy Court’s computer system.  I will deliver the name and address of your Chapter 7 Trustee to you by phone or email the day you sign and I file your Petition, and a few days later an official Notice from the Bankruptcy Court will be mailed to you with this and other pertinent information about your Bankruptcy case.

The primary duties of the Chapter 7 Trustee are (1) to examine your Bankruptcy Petition and Schedules, (2) conduct a 341 Meeting of the Creditors (a Hearing you must attend and testify at under oath) and (3) determine if you have any non-exempt assets that can be liquidated to pay your creditors.  Additionally, the Trustee has the power to refer cases to higher authorities to be investigated for Bankruptcy Fraud and/or other crimes, if appropriate.  Therefore, it is imperative that you fully disclose all of your income, assets and liabilities to me during your Bankruptcy process so I may properly prepare your Bankruptcy Petition to avoid any improprieties.

After your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition is filed but before you attend your 341 Meeting we will mail to you a Questionnaire provided by your Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee.  The questions are simple and you should be able to answer them all without assistance (but of course, we are always here to guide you).  An example of one inquiry on the questionnaire would be “have you ever filed bankruptcy before?”  If the answer is “yes,” there will be a few follow-up questions like “What was the case number?” and “Did you receive a discharge?”

Your Chapter 7 Trustee will also provide to my office a list of required documents that the Trustee will examine in conjunction with your Bankruptcy Petition.  The list of requested documents will include such things as Tax Returns, Bank Statements and Paystubs.  Usually I will already have everything that is requested, but I may ask you to provide additional documents to satisfy the requests of your Chapter 7 Trustee.

The next part of my Chapter 7 Bankruptcy series will take you through your 341 Meeting of the Creditors so you are fully prepared to attend the Hearing.

Contact Attorney Theresa Rose DeGray at Consumer Legal Services, LLC (203-713-8877) for more information on this and other Bankruptcy related topics.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Series Part Four: Credit Counseling

Once your Means Test is complete and it is determined that you are a qualified candidate for a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, I will the instruct you to complete a Credit Counseling Course which is the next step in the bankruptcy process.  The completion of a Credit Counseling Course is required by the Bankruptcy Code.1 I will give you a list of credit counseling agencies approved by the United States Trustee and answer any questions about the course you may have before you start. 

After you select an approved agency, you can take the course in person, or, more conveniently, online or on the telephone in the comfort of your own home.  The course takes approximately one hour in total to complete. 

[Quick Tip: If you take your credit counseling course online (versus in person or on the phone) you can start it and stop it as many times as you need to, like a DVD.  This is usually more convenient for people who have jobs and children!] 

The course customarily consists of an introductory briefing, a budget analysis (some call it a “mini-means test”) and at the conclusion of the session, you will be given a final briefing on your options in bankruptcy as well as non-bankruptcy alternatives.  The class is rather straightforward and nothing to be nervous about. 

Most approved agencies charge $30 to $50 for an individual and may give a discount to a married couple.  It is important to note that the credit counseling course must be done within the 180 days before the day you file your petition and may not be done on the day you file.  There are few exceptions to the credit counseling requirement (e.g. exigent circumstances, etc.) but failure to comply with the credit counseling requirement, unless otherwise ordered by the Bankruptcy Court, could result in a dismissal of your case.  

Upon completion of the course you will be given a “Certificate” of completion.  You can also instruct the agency to deliver a copy of the certificate to my office via e-mail or fax, or you can send me a copy yourself.  Your certificate will ultimately be delivered to the Bankruptcy Court upon filing of your Bankruptcy Petition along with an “Exhibit D” called the “Individual Debtor’s Statement of Compliance with Credit Counseling,” which you will sign under oath stating that you completed the course within the required time period before your filing and completed it with an approved agency.   

The next step in the Bankruptcy process is to return to my office for the signing and filing of your Bankruptcy Petition.  In our next installment of this Chapter 7 Blog Series I will explain each section of a typical Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition so you will have a preview of what you will be reading and signing before we meet again. 

For more information on Credit Counseling or for a Free Consultation, please contact Consumer Legal Services, LLC, the Law Offices of Attorney Theresa Rose DeGray, at 203-713-8877.

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1See 11 U.S.C. § 109(h)

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Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Series Part Three: Means Testing

After we have our Initial Consultation and you have delivered your documents to me, I will analyze your financial circumstances and perform your Means Test.  A Means Test is an assessment used to determine if you qualify to file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.

Before 2005 it was easy to file for bankruptcy; virtually anyone could do so.  In 2005 Congress enacted the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA)1 and added the Means Test requirement to prevent abuse of the Bankruptcy process.  Simply put if you “pass” the means test, you are a qualified candidate and can file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition.  If you “fail” the means Test, you may not file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy but you may enjoy other alternatives such as a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy (which will be discussed in a future series of Consumer Legal Services, LLC’s blog posts).

The Means Test primarily encompasses a two-step analysis.

STEP ONE: Your (the “debtor’s”) gross income is calculated on an average over a six month period prior to filing for Bankruptcy.  Gross income for means testing purposes includes wages, salary, tips, bonuses, overtime and commissions.  It does not include social security benefits.  The figure derived from taking the average is than considered the Debtor’s Current Monthly Income which is then compared to the median income for your state and household size.  If your current monthly income is less than the median income for your state and household size, than you “pass” the means test and are allowed to file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition.  If, however, your current monthly income is greater than the median income for your state and household size, you may proceed to Step Two.

STEP TWO: If your current monthly income is greater than the median income for your state and household size, there is, in technical terms, a “presumption of abuse.”2 In order to rebut the presumption, or in other terms, to pass the means test by using the second step, the means test’s second section allows you to subtract from your current monthly income certain allowable and deductible expenses.3 These allowed deductions include, but are not limited to, expenses for living (mortgages and property taxes), transportation (car loans and car taxes), health insurance and charitable donations.  After the calculations are performed, and the allowable deductions are taken, and if you then have no disposable monthly income available, you will than have passed the Means Test (with no presumption of abuse) and may file a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.  If, on the other hand, you do have remaining disposable income, you may consider a Chapter 13 Bankruptcy.

The discussion above is an overview of the Means Test in basic terms and is in no way intended as a specific analysis of your personal financial circumstances.

For an analysis of your own financial circumstances, please contact Attorney Theresa DeGray at Consumer Legal Services to schedule your free consultation today.

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1See: 11 U.S.C. § 707(b)
2See: 11 U.S.C. § 707(b)(2) and 11 U.S.C. § 707(b)(3)
3See: 11 U.S.C. § 707(b)(2)(A)

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This firm is a debt relief agency. We help people file for bankruptcy relief amongst other things, under the Bankruptcy Code.